Melbourne City has suffered its first loss of the season on Friday night as it went down to reigning Champions Sydney FC at AAMI Park.
After a scoreless opening half where both sides continuously wrestled for control of the game, Sydney took the lead through a Luke Wilkshire volley in the second half before weathering a late City charge to come away with the three points.
The loss brings to an end Warren Joyce’s winning start at City and means that Sydney leapfrog City into top spot on the A-League table.
After a three-round stretch without change, Osama Malik’s suspension for his red card against Adelaide forced a tactical rejig from head coach Warren Joyce.
Joyce brought Tim Cahill and Luke Brattan into the XI, with Michael Jakobsen slotting into the left back position to allow for Cahill to enter the line-up up front next to Ross McCormack.
Neil Kilkenny returned to the City squad on the bench, whilst Scott Jamieson was the unlucky man out in making room for his return.
The game started in a cagey manner, the two form sides of the 2017/18 A-League season poking and prodding at each other in front of the 11, 034 assembled fans as they attempted to zero in on their opponents vulnerabilities.
Whatever the direction the game was taking however, it was altered in the 22nd minute when Cahill became entangled with Sydney FC defender Jordy Buijs. The City and Socceroos superstar appeared to turn an ankle in the challenge and the two minutes later was replaced by Marcin Budzinksi.
The 37-year-old, who was named as a part of the Socceroos squad that will face Honduras in the World Cup Continental Playoff, was able to walk under his own power back to the rooms following the incident, however reports at half time indicated that the forward began to experience significant swelling of the ankle when made it back to the rooms.
He left for hospital during the second half where he was expected to undergo an MRI.
Sydney almost capitalized on the blow to City’s momentum immediately, when Sydney’s Brazillian marquee Bobo collected a ball about 25 yards from the City goal, before dribbling to the edge of the area and launching a speculative effort that flashed just wide left of the City goal.
City eventually adjusted to their enforced change in tactics, and had a speculative call for a penalty in the 32nd minute when Fitzgerald appeared to be bundled over as he advanced towards the Sydney goal, but replays appeared to show that it was the right call by match official Jarred Gillet.
Fitzgerald was at the centre of the action two minutes later when he started and finished what was at the time the best chance of the night. Collecting a long ball out from defence broke, the winger played it into the path of Jakobsen down the left as City looked to break, with the City captain playing it though to Mauk on the edge of the area.
Mauk then found Fitzgerald, who had continued running after playing his ball to Jakobsen, who launched a powerful shot goalward, only to be denied by a fine Redmayne save and see it trickle out for a corner.
The effort would prove to be the best effort that either side would have in the first half, with both soon resuming the cagey tug of war that marked much of the initial exchanges of the half and ultimately entering the half time break locked in a goalless draw.
Sydney would eventually get the best of the tug-of-war between the two sides after the restart, having chances through Alex Brosque and Milos Ninkovic before eventually going ahead through Wilkinson in the 59th minute.
The Sydney defender ghosted his way into the City penalty area and was completely unmarked at the back post when Sydney winger Michael Zullo who Sydney had worked the ball to out on the left launched a cross into the City area.
Wilkinson didn’t make the best contact with his volley, but he made enough to turn it in and give Sydney the one goal to nil lead.
City had a golden chance to equalize just three minutes later when Fitzgerald, receiving the ball on the left wing outside of the penalty area, worked the ball to the byline and cut the ball back.
His ball beat Redmayne, but also McCormack, who’s lunging effort was just shy of making contact and putting City back on level terms.
Joyce also responded quickly to the deficit, bringing on Marcelo Carrusca and Neil Kilkenny for Emmanuel Muscat and Luke Brattan in the 75th minute.
Carrusca soon made an impact, getting hacked down by Wilkshire, a challenge the Sydney goalscorer was booked for, in the 77th minute and winning a free kick from McCormack that Sydney could only clear for a corner.
Carrusca created another chance in the 83rd drawing a hand ball from Sydney’s Zullo to give McCormack the opportunity to make it three goals from free kicks in three weeks, however the Scotsman, who was not as sharp against Sydney as he had been in previous weeks, could only put his effort over the bar.
City continued to press hard throughout the final ten minutes, launching countless balls into the box and frequently forcing Redmayne and his defence into action, but ultimately the Sydney defence held.
City will be back at AAMI Park again next week when we host the Western Sydney Wanderers on Sunday, 7:00pm kick off. It will be the clubs second double header in as many weeks, with Melbourne City’s women hosting the Newcastle Jets in a 4:30 beforehand.